“The key to success this year will be building trust with our current and prospective investor clients.”
If you don’t know who initially came up with this philosophy, don’t worry. It was likely first uttered by a Neolithic financial professional, and the stone tablet upon which it was inscribed has now been lost to history. Today, I think you could probably attribute it to nearly every decision maker in the financial services industry, as I hear or read something along these lines almost daily.
Trust has always been an integral component of the financial industry: after all, an investor’s decision to allow someone to take control of their hard-earned money requires a large amount of it. Since the financial crisis of 2008–2009, however, the topic of trust—especially how to rebuild investors’ trust in an industry perceived to have failed them—has been a critical issue for organizations in many different areas of the industry.
I’m defining trust here as “a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another.”
I think vulnerability is the key word in this definition, and (as a result of heavy investing losses, rampant mismanagement, and high-profile scandals during the crisis) we’re seeing a concerning gap between investors’ perception of the overall financial industry and of those who operate within it.
“We’re seeing a concerning gap between investors’ perception of the overall financial industry and of those who operate within it.”
How do we pick up the pieces and gain back what we lost?
What many of those who have attempted to rebuild trust in an industry have found is that, while the cause is noble, there are significant obstacles to approaching an ethereal concept like trust, not the least of which is how difficult it is to measure.
How Do We Measure Trust?
In a numbers-focused industry, measuring a feeling like trust can be perceived as leaning too far toward the “touchy-feely.” However, we need to understand the depth of the challenge if we are to begin closing the gap, and that can only be done through data.
For high-level industry insights, one tool I’ve found valuable is Edelman’s Trust Barometer.
On the positive side, the survey is completed annually, making it easy to benchmark progress on a global level or for a selected country or industry. On the negative side, the survey doesn’t dig deeper than very high-level industry designations, such as “financial services” and “banks,” which can make it difficult to rationalize data usage for a specific niche or business type.
On a more in-depth level, you might also take a look at calculating your company’s Net Promoter Score.
Through your customers’ answers to a single question (“How likely is it that you would recommend [company] to a friend or colleague?”) you can categorize them into “Promoters,” “Passives,” and “Detractors.” Your Net Promoter Score, calculated by subtracting the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters, can serve as a simple and valuable indicator, as your percentage of Promoters implies a powerful representation of trust in your specific company.
Once you’ve measured trust at the global, industry, and company level, there’s a good chance you’ll find data that supports a sizeable trust gap. So, what next?
How Do We Begin Closing the Gap?
I’m biased, of course, as I’m heavily involved in our organization’s content marketing efforts. But I believe that offering valuable, relevant content with no sales pitch or hidden agenda is one of the best ways to enhance credibility and promote brand goodwill.
As we were creating our content strategy for 2015, I wanted to know if investors felt the same way.
In a 2015 survey from Jackson’s Center for Financial Insight, of 2,662 investor respondents, 63.3% answered “True” when given the following statement: “Overall, I have a negative perception of most companies in the financial services industry (i.e., insurance companies, asset/money managers, investment product providers, etc.), and these companies must work to earn my trust before I choose to partner with them in any capacity.”
Further, in answer to the question, “For companies in the financial services industry, the best way to earn my trust is…,” 46.4% answered “…To offer free, relevant, valuable and easily accessible content to help me make more informed decisions.” The next highest result was “…To offer easier-to-understand brochures and information materials about their product and service offerings” at 22.5%.
In no uncertain terms, content is the most valuable trust equalizer, according to investors. But what about the other side of the coin? Well, 76% of financial services professionals also believe content marketing is the most effective way to regain trust.
There are two main reasons why content has an advantage over some of the other ideas that have failed in the “rebuilding trust” arena.
1. When attempting to impact a discrepancy, it always helps to find common ground.
One of the things I’ve found in the financial services industry is how difficult it can be to find consensus, regardless of which group is being surveyed. Financial services providers, advisors, and investors are categorized quite broadly, but the individuals within these groups are extremely unique and diverse.
In the case of content, based on the above statistics, investors and financial services professionals mercifully agree. Usually, when you find this type of consensus, it can pay to act on it.
2. Content inherently allows marketers to “build” trust in the truest sense of the word.
Unlike advertising, where too much volume or overly aggressive messaging can really hurt a brand (and, by extension, a business), content allows us to show our intent, expertise, and value one piece at a time, constructing a consistent, steady case for trust over the longterm.
All that said, at the end of the day, true trust can only be gained and held if both parties are unswervingly genuine. If you work in the for-profit financial services world, your content goals certainly need to be tied to revenue in some capacity, but I would urge you to remember the underlying importance of sincerity when it comes to creating your content.
I’m a firm believer that, especially in the case of rebuilding trust in financial services, it’s not a single-company effort. If we as an industry can educate, inform, and add a significant level of value to investors through our content, we can begin taking strides toward closing this trust gap together.